The High Priestess is a powerful woman, as we can observe by her fine robes and papal tiara. She represents a higher state of power and nobility, sitting with an open book in her hands.
This arcanum is also referred to as “The Popess” or “The Papess”, which is probably a reference to Pope Joan, the female pope who ruled the Holy Roman Church for a brief period during the Middle Ages. Despite this, the figure of a female pope is otherwise quite common in allegorical portraits of the Holy Roman Church, representing the institution itself or the concept of faith.
At both sides of the Priestess are two pillars, defining the set as a sacred place (pillars are often associated with the Temple of Solomon – the first temple, according to Hebrews). These pillars represent the duality between masculine and feminine, the first related to Fire (active) and the second to Water (passive). Recognising this duality inside ourselves is the key to enter this temple: the building and symbol of enlightenment.
The Priestess takes her place between the pillars, acknowledging her role as mediator, a central force that unites dark and light.
The crescent moon at the top of her tiara represents her connection to the sacred feminine and is a symbol of her intuition and the unconscious. That is why it is quite common to see her in the role of Spiritual Mother who controls psychic or emotional forces.
Her cloak is dark blue as the mysterious depths of the sea (the symbolic representation of the unconscious). Dark blue is also the colour of wisdom, faith, and nobility. White stands for purity, honour, divinity, and nobility, too. The combination of white and blue (the Marian colours), is linked to the Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother. This, in association with the pendant at her neck holding a golden heart, relates to motherhood. So, the Priestess is an embodiment of holy motherhood and the virtues of purity, honour, and faith.
The High Priestess holds a book firmly, marking the pages with her fingers, as she looks directly at us, viewers of the card, as if she were about to explain the divine word. According to Rider-Waite’s tarot, the book she holds is the Torah (the divine law, by Judaism). The High Priestess is keen to share some of her readings, so she is also a representation of shared knowledge, as well as divine wisdom.
Upright Meaning and Interpretation
Intuition, Spirituality, Faith, Subconscious mind.
Getting this card in a reading may signify that you should listen to your intuition and convictions rather than your intellect or rational thinking.
The High Priestess represents someone who is open to her own spirituality and advises you to break the boundaries of rationality and listen to your inner voice. Often the best answers come from within.
If you look at the High Priestess’ pose, it conveys security and toughness. She knows what she wants, she is certain of her convictions and believes in her ideals. This is reflected in ourselves if we free ourselves from our fears and uncertainties. Get rid of your insecurities and believe more in yourself, because with determination you can get whatever you want and reach a higher level in your life.
Reversed Meaning and Interpretation
Gossip, Secrets, Anxiety.
The reversed High Priestess alerts you to stop and listen to yourself and to your inner wisdom. Other people’s opinions and judgement affect you and collide with your own values, which causes insecurity and fear to move forward.
Rational thinking and reasoning may also be the root of your problem – make way for your intuition, listen to your inner voice, and place yourself within your own values and convictions. Free yourself from logical thinking and flow into your innermost feelings.
If you are experiencing moments of anxiety, it means that you are probably repressing your feelings and that creates a barrier in your way. You may need to concentrate or meditate to get in touch with your inner voice. As soon as you listen to it, you will easily overcome whatever disturbs you.
Finally, there is a tendency for secrets and gossip. Others may talk about you behind your back and hide things from you. Do not let that drive you into confusion or paranoia and have an honest conversation if you are not comfortable with any subject or experiencing any kind of distress. Communication is key: with yourself and others.